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Aaron Rodgers made trademark pinpoint passes. Eddie Lacy powered out tough yards on the ground. The defense held firm in a frantic fourth quarter.
This could be one super combination for the Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns, and Green Bay fended off the New England Patriots 26-21 Sunday in a high-profile matchup between Super Bowl contenders.
"We have some big goals, and we're getting into December football now with a chance with everything right in front of us," Rodgers said.
He bested Tom Brady in the first meeting between the star quarterbacks as starters. They were the main attractions in a down-to-the-wire thriller.
Rodgers connected with Richard Rodgers and Jordy Nelson for long touchdowns in the first half.
Leading by five, the defense made a late stand for the Packers (9-3). With Green Bay back in zone coverage, Mike Daniels and Mike Neal combined to sack Brady on third down for a 9-yard loss, and kicker Stephen Gostkowkski pushed a 47-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 2:40 left.
The Packers sealed it after Rodgers converted to Cobb on third-and-4 with the Patriots out of timeouts.
"The point total was enough to win the game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought (the) defense did a lot of good things, and really I think the end of the game is what you're looking for as a coach."
Not quite the ending Brady had in mind.
"I hate to take a sack in that situation. I really would have liked to score there," he said.
"I just wish we would have won this one. We put a lot into this one, and this was a great test for us. I think the guys knew how important this was for our season."
Brady finished 22 of 35 for 245 yards and two touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell for New England (9-3), which had its seven-game winning streak snapped. The second score came from 15 yards early in the fourth quarter to get within 23-21.
The lead could have been wider for the Packers if not for some hiccups in the red zone.
Green Bay settled for four field goals from Mason Crosby of 35 yards or less, including a 28-yarder to make it a five-point lead with 8:41 left. That kick came after rookie Davante Adams dropped a potential touchdown pass on third-and-5 from the New England 10.
On his knees, a frustrated Rodgers buried his helmet into the turf in frustration.
But he was celebrating at the end. Green Bay has won four in a row and eight of nine.
"I just go back to our philosophy of winning. First, you have to find ways to win. Learn how to win, No. 1, but then you've got to find ways to win and you have to do it as many different ways as possible," McCarthy said.
Rodgers finished 24 of 38, while Lacy had 98 yards on 21 carries, including 26 on the ground in the fourth-quarter drive that led to Crosby's field goal. Adams had a career-best 121 yards on six receptions.
"I said all week they had good skill players. They have good everything," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Rodgers extended his NFL-record streaks to 360 consecutive passes at home and 31 touchdown passes in a row at home without an interception. His last interception at home came nearly two years ago on Dec. 2, 2012.
The Packers had been blowing past opponents at home with big early leads, turning the final 30 minutes of games at Lambeau Field into glorified practices. But this game had the feel of a championship fight down to the final minutes.
New England punched back after falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter.
Brandon Bolden twisted his way up the middle for a 6-yard scoring run early in the second quarter to get New England on the board. LaFell's 2-yard catch with 1:09 left in the quarter drew New England within 16-14.
But the quick-strike Packers were at their best late in the first half. Rodgers found Nelson in stride over the middle, and the receiver beat standout cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 45-yard touchdown, outracing safety Devin McCourty and tagging the front pylon before falling out of bounds.
Six-foot-6 tight end Rob Gronkowski had 98 yards on seven catches, proving to be a matchup nightmare once again for a defense.
Green Bay made the biggest stop in the end after sacking Brady.
"So when you've got a guy like that, you have to just keep on chopping wood and you never know when you'll get to him," Daniels said. "And as you saw, the last defensive play of the game is when we got to him."
This article was originally published on November 30, 2014.
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